WashU Expert: Four gift-giving tips — for Black Friday and beyond

Olin's Elanor Williams offers holiday season buying strategies based on research

‘Tis the season to shop, and who better to offer advice than a scientist who has studied gift-giving?

Elanor Williams, associate professor of marketing at Washington University in St. Louis’ Olin Business School, researches consumers and the marketing strategies that get them to spend. Here, she offers four main rules for gift-givers:

  • Give them something they need. “Somebody who buys a useful gift for a recipient, they know they’ll get some use out of it,” Williams said. “It will be something the person values.”
  • Give them something they want. “You should make liberal use of wish lists and asking people what they want,” she said. “Turns out, that’s a good signal; that’s what they’ll enjoy getting.”
  • Give them something they don’t need to keep. If it isn’t a utilitarian gift, “Don’t worry about giving a thing; give somebody an experience, something to do and enjoy in the moment,” she said.
  • Give them something to remember you by. “It could mean giving something more sentimental rather than something that is meant to be enjoyed or meant to be used,” she said. “Something that reminds them of a special person, a special place, a special time. That will last for a long time.”
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